Never go to bed angry.
That is one of my Personal Laws, or, actually, it used to be one. Sounds like a good law, right? I don’t think many people would argue with me about it. Although, when it came down to it, it wasn’t really right for me. Why? I’ll get to that soon, but first:
WHAT IS A PERSONAL LAW?
Personal Laws are rules that we live by which dictate how we behave and act in certain situations. We usually pick them up from our family and /or our culture, and then take them on as THE TRUTH.
Here are a few more of my Personal Laws:
- I don’t have to apologize if I didn’t do it on purpose.
- I have to take care of others before I take care of myself.
- If someone is mean to me, I can be mean back.
- Do something that makes me happy every day.
Clearly, some of those laws are good, right? Like, doing something that makes me happy every day. While, others, like not apologizing, just might not make others very happy, daily.
Personal Laws either work for you or not.
Now, let’s take a closer look at my never go to bed angry law and from where it came. You see, I am pretty sure that my parents went to bed angry, woke up angry, and went to work angry on most days. So, as you can see, my personal law was formulated by me as a reaction to my parents’ dynamic. There was no fun or freedom in its design or even much choice about it. It sucked for me as a kid to listen and watch it, so way back then I wrote that law into existence and fully, wholeheartedly, believed that one of the measures of a happy, successful relationship was to beautifully resolve every conflict, disagreement or misunderstanding that came up during the day before my head hit the pillow at night. It made sense, right?
OK, back to why it didn’t work for me.
Even when my wife and I would work out our issues, I would often find myself going to bed angry. How come? Part of the problem was the set up.
THE SET UP
Often times my wife and I would be going through our busy days and get our feelings hurt by each other or worse, I would notice that the dishes weren’t loaded in the dishwasher properly, and because we were following another Personal Law: Thou Shalt Not Fight In Front of the Kids, we would wait until we were in bed to discuss what was bothering us.
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The trouble with that was, I would be tired and irritated that we had to discuss an issue right before bed. This would create more conflict in my mind. I’d think to myself either solve the problem and lose sleep (because I’d be full of adrenaline about the issue and not be able to fall asleep afterwards). Or ignore the problem and go to sleep, as the thoughts in my head — my inner dialogue — tormented me about breaking my ‘going to bed angry rule’ as my marriage fell apart before my (closed) eyes.
Either way, I was screwed (and not in the good way like you ought to be when you are in bed with your spouse). This Personal Law was not helping my marriage.
In any area of your life where you are not happy or if something is not working, there is a pretty good chance that you have a Personal Law that is in conflict with your goals. Often when we are dealing with these types of laws, we forget that they are actually a choice. We’ve believed them for so long that we lose track of the fact that we don’t have to obey them and even better, we can repeal them and rewrite them.
My example of not going to bed angry was a good practice and made a lot of sense. But, in the big picture of my life and relationship with my wife, it didn’t work for me.
ASK, WHAT’S YOUR DREAM?
Step one for me was to get clear on what my dream was for my marriage. Well, since conflict is pretty much unavoidable, despite what my inner chicken would prefer, never disagreeing was not a realistic goal. So I went with having honest, effective and loving communication.
DOES YOUR PERSONAL LAW MATCH YOUR DREAM?
Step two was seeing that my Personal Law did not work with my dream. It may have been honest, but it was not always loving and rarely effective from my point of view. For me there were fears and wacky beliefs behind this law that also needed to be looked at.
Why did I have to have conflicts resolved before I fell asleep? Would the relationship boogeyman come and take my wife from me if we did not solve our problem? Well, I don’t really believe in the boogeyman or boogeymen. Well, actually, I sorta do. A little. I have a flashlight right by my bed just in case.
My real issue is fear. I believed that if I did not deal with something immediately, it would fester and damage our relationship beyond repair. In other words, I was insecure. I could deal with my insecurity by simply telling myself the obvious – I love my wife and she loves me. Everyone has disagreements and I can go to sleep now because I know we will resolve it. This led me to writing the new law that I wanted in my life: We will discuss our problems as soon as we have the time and the emotional faculties to do so.
This works much better for me and actually supports the kind of thoughts and beliefs that I really want in my relationship. That my wife and I trust one another to manage our conflicts in a way that works for both of us. And the very fact that we want to resolve them proves that we truly love and are connected to each other. Rewriting this law even led to the revision of the Thou Shalt Not Fight In Front of the Kids law. Now, I can see how modeling successful conflict resolution is actually a gift to my children instead of a scary, trauma that needs to be hidden from them. Again, there are rules about how we do this and the better we follow them, the better off we all are.
Personal Laws are everywhere in our lives, whether we realize them or not. Some work and some simply do not. Once you allow yourself to see that following these laws is a choice, you can identify the ones that are getting in the way of your happiness and create new ones that are going to help you reach your goals. When you do this, it is helpful to write them down where you can keep track of them and to share them with others so that they can help support you.
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